(as seen on Time.com's LightBox)
About the Liberia '77 Photo Repatriation Project www.liberia77.com
Last year we made a documentary called Liberia ’77 that followed my brother and I as we returned to the country of our childhood – after 30 years and two civil wars – to find the people and places of our father’s photographs. It was a fascinating and emotional trip – but the story didn’t end there...
During the filming, we also discovered that much of the country’s photographic record had been destroyed by war. Historical events, significant people and places, were all but forgotten by many we met, overwhelmed by memories of violence. We met a whole generation of Liberians who had grown up in a time of conflict, knowing nothing but violence and destruction. And we learned that many who had photographs of their happy, healthy families were marked for death by rebel soldiers. To save their lives, people actually burned their own photos, even threw their cameras away. The National Museum was looted - its contents destroyed. We found it closed and dilapidated, a small remaining collection of the country’s photographs randomly piled and rapidly deteriorating in a corner closet.
We also realized that the envelope of our dad’s photos we carried was more than just a collection of family snapshots of our idyllic ex-pat childhood. For many Liberians we showed them to, they were rare proof of a once peaceful country – and hope for a brighter future for a country working hard to heal.
Sando Moore, a Liberian photojournalist who lost all his archives said to us:
“If you don’t know where you came from, how can you know where you are going?”
A chance meeting with President (and Nobel Peace Prize winner!) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf confirmed our discovery. We showed her our favourite image -- a beautiful shot our dad made of Monrovia circa 1977 of two young girls scampering across a well-kept city street. She asked those of us who had photos of pre-war Liberia to return them, so “that the children of Liberia can know its own history.” (click here to see the President's wish)
So we built a website and asked people around the world who did have photos of pre-war Liberia to upload them. In the past months hundreds of amazing images have been contributed. You can see the collection here: www.liberia77.com/explore
And now it's time to take the photos back to Liberia.
We are currently working with the National Museum and the Liberian Ministry of Culture, and planning to mount an exhibition of the best of the submitted images this fall at the National Museum in Monrovia. As you can imagine, taking this photo exhibition back to Liberia is not an inexpensive undertaking. We need your help to make this happen.
Your contribution will go towards revitalizing the museum’s interior, printing and mounting photos and transporting them to Liberia, as well as airfare, accommodation and transportation. We are also planning to produce accompanying educational material for teachers and parents to help Liberian children to process and discuss what they see at the exhibit.
Our hope to help restore some of the lost photographic history of Liberia and to inspire the younger generation to think about the importance of photography and art in society – and hopefully inspire a new generation of potential photographers.
Thank you in advance for your generous support of this important project.